We sat there, in the dark, perhaps a hundred or so people crammed into the room, clutching popcorn and drinks, silent except for the few excited whispers and anticipatory giggles. A hundred people, jolted out of their world of cell phones and personal devices, about to be immersed, together, in an emotionally wrenching experience.
As a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, of course I was excited to be seeing the new Captain America movie at our little town theater. I was expecting jokes and fights and a climatic faceoff between Team Cap and Team Iron Man, still not exactly sure why they were fighting, but really sure it was going to be cool. To tell the truth, I was expecting the clash of the heroes to be the real thing everyone was there for, the real reason for the film, not really knowing if there was going to be a truly credible reason for the Avengers to split up and battle each other, wondering which side was going to be painted as the villain, and who painted as the victim.
But the people at Marvel always seem to be one step ahead. After a cryptic prologue, we’re dropped into a cityscape, watching as the Avengers, undercover, try to thwart a terrorist attack. Things go wrong, of course, and one superhero is unable to control their powers, destroying a still-inhabited apartment building. This is what sets off the civil war, as the Avengers become divided over the issue of safety, and whether or not they should continue to operate without supervision. Iron Man fears that without legislation, the Avengers would be too powerful, and harm more people, but Captain America fears the opposite, that they might not be able to save people if they are under tight legal constraint. Add to the mix the fact that Cap’s old friend Bucky, who was once the assassin Winter Soldier, is suspected of instigating the terrorist attack, and Team Iron Man want to bring him in. And so begins a civil war of epic, or, if I may, marvelous proportions, with all the twists, turns, conflict and humor we’ve come to expect of a Marvel film thrown in.
Watching the film, there, with people I don’t know, laughing, gasping, sharing silence, disconnected from our own little personal, divisive devices, was something communal, something we all shared. All watching the same story masterfully played out on that big, communal screen, each drawing our own conclusions, finding our own hidden messages, feeling our own pain, cheering on our own heroes, calling for them to get up when they fall. I don’t know how you feel about watching a movie in a theater, but it gives me a feeling of connections, of community, not just with the people sitting next to me, but even those across the country, or the world, who may be watching. And not just watching passively, like they might when they get the movie on DVD in a few months and stick it in their computers and sit and watch it alone, but engaged, laughing at the jokes, hurting when a hero falls, imaging those bullets punching through their skin, wondering if they’d be strong enough to take it, strong enough to handle great power, and the great responsibility that entails. They can identify with these heroes. Perhaps it is only I who think about these things, but I really hope it isn’t.
And that is why I am so glad that Iron Man is not just a complete and utter stuck up, arrogant, narcissistic idiot, and Cap is not the perfect, all-American, admirable and flawless hero. Both of them make mistakes, and both will make more. There is bad on both sides, and a little good, too. There is heartache, and sadness, and humor, and loss, all the ingredients of good entertainment, which can be taken home and unpacked and thought about and discussed. And though we may never know who was completely right, and who completely wrong, I rest assured that Marvel has once again brought real conflicts, real issues, real stories, real pain, and real people to the big screen in a great, and, if I may say so, a superhuman way.